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Political tension intensifies over elections as PPP elections commissioners walk out over President’s letters to GECOM

PPP-nominated election commissioners Sase Gunraj Bibi Shadick and Robeson Benn.

Political tension between the Guyana government and the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) over preparations for general elections heightened on Thursday over the existence of two letters by President David Granger to the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), James Patterson.

The controversy spilled over into Thursday’s meeting of the seven-member elections body when the PPP’s three commissioners asked about a plan for preparations for elections but there was none.

Questions were also raised about the apparent secrecy of the second missive. The PPP commissioners – Sase Gunraj, Robeson Benn and Bibi Shadick – walked out of the meeting resulting in it ending abruptly.

A GECOM official said the second letter does not supersede the first one, but in fact they “complement each other and one is a follow up to the other”.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon was expected to issue a statement on the matter some time Thursday night.

In the first letter, President Granger committed to securing parliamentary funding for holding general elections and affording GECOM sufficient time to prepare for the polls. He also specifically advised the Commission to begin preparations for Guyanese to go to the polls.

In the second letter to the GECOM Chairman, the President instead said he wanted to meet with the Commission to ascertain its preparedness to hold general elections this year. “I have noted that GECOM, as a constitutional agency, would require a new appropriation of funds approved by the National Assembly for the conduct of general and regional elections. I now write you in that context for us to initiate consultations on the readiness of GECOM for the conduct of general and regional elections in 2019,” the second letter reads.

PPP elections commissioner Sase Gunraj told Demerara Waves Online News that he and his colleagues walked out of the meeting after it became evident that there is a bias for a lengthy house-to-house registration plus unnecessary lag times for a claims and objections period and claims and objections with continuous registration.

Pro-coalition GECOM Commissioners Vincent Alexander, Desmond Trotman and Charles Corbin speaking with the media outside GECOM’s headquarters after a statutory meeting.

“He is not equivocal in what he is saying,” Gunraj said in reference to the President’s second letter. “Some mischief is afoot,” he added. Gunraj said he was not concerned about the second letter because the first one seeks to deal with the important queries. “The second letter is of no consequence because the first addresses the queries that we have: 1) do you start the preparation and 2) funding, and both of those issues are clarified in the first,” said Gunraj, a lawyer.

The governing coalition and its elections commissioners have been insisting on house-to-house registration to remove the names of deceased persons, emigrants, and register those who have moved to new residences.

Meanwhile, across at the Guyana Court of Appeal, Judge Rishi Persaud refused an application by Attorney General Basil Williams to grant an interim stay of the High Court’s decision that was delivered on January 31 concerning the validity of the no-confidence motion passed by the Parliament last December. Persaud said he was “not mindful” to do so now because they were still within the constitutional 90-day period. Williams wants a stay of the decision and a conservatory order to preserve the President and the cabinet in office.

Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who is representing Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, said he objected to the granting of an interim order because there was no likelihood of the appeals being successful. “I objected to the interim stay because there is no basis for an interim stay. The appeal has no likelihood of success. You can only have a stay if you have an appeal that has some prospect of success. There is no appeal that has any prospect of success and the documents themselves are fallible and we tried to get them corrected and they were not corrected,” he said.

The 90 days within which general elections should be held after the passage of the no-confidence motion expires on March 21, 2019, unless the House approves an extension of the deadline and life of the government by a two-thirds majority of the 65-seat National Assembly.

Jagdeo on Thursday said he would not be attending next Wednesday’s meeting with President Granger unless he proposes a date for the holding of general elections. Jagdeo said based on the proposed agenda, there was no need for a public relations stunt because the President knows what he has to do in accordance with Guyana’s constitution.